Graduate Spotlight: Rania Lachhab

Rania Lachhab is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics (AFRE).

Rania Lachhab’s research focuses on the nexus of agriculture, development, and the environment with a focus on understanding economic and strategic behavior associated with optimal management of natural resources and the environment. Rania is currently studying water and climate change economics and policy, in water-stressed, politically unstable regions. Rania’s work attempts to answer questions about farmers’ adaptation to policy shocks, conjunctive use of surface and groundwater, and distributional effects of changes in access to water.

How did you become interested in this subject area?

I am from Morocco, where agriculture and water stress have always been at the heart of most political debates. I grew up listening to different people criticizing my country’s development strategy, the fear from an imminent water crisis, and personally feeling the impacts of a drought year on prices of food and on political agitation. 

While pursuing a Master’s degree in Agricultural Engineering, I became aware of the similarities between Morocco and other parts of the world, in terms of water resources management and agriculture. Seeing that this is a global issue that is only getting more problematic with climate change, I decided to learn more about it and hopefully be able to use my research to propose mitigation and adaptation strategies.

What are your hopes for your graduate research work when it is completed?

Interest around water economics and policy is only growing with the incidence of climate change and all the threats about the war for water. I want to be a part of that debate and bring my economic and scientific perspective to the table.

My ambition is to conduct impactful research to address issues of policy importance in water-stressed regions. Within this context, I aspire to contribute effectively to the missions of research and extension centers by providing insight into resource economics research. My results are relevant to policy makers by explaining farmers behavior and their response to policy shocks.

Why did you decide to choose AFRE for your graduate studies?

Being Mediterranean, I definitely did not choose AFRE for the cold Midwest winters! In all seriousness, I chose the AFRE graduate program for the quality of its faculty members, and I was not disappointed. I was looking for a program that would offer me a solid foundation in microeconomics and econometrics and where I could learn to do high quality research. You can learn a lot from textbooks and readings, but the value added of fully engaged professors and faculty is invaluable.

What is your favorite thing about the AFRE department?

Staying consistent with my preferences and values, I would say that my favorite thing about the AFRE graduate program is our people. This might seem trivial to some but to me, it is a huge privilege to be surrounded by so many interesting and intelligent people. Being a part of this multicultural, multi-background, and multi-disciplinary environment has reshaped my understanding of my own research interest. On a more personal level, it also opened my mind to many experiences and helped me understand life from different perspectives. I appreciate the dynamic of our department. If you ask someone for help or guidance, whether be it asking a professor about their input for your research or career opportunities or asking a student for help understanding a subject or an assignment, people in AFRE will go out of their way to help you achieve your potential. And that is, in my opinion, a crucial element in not only surviving, but getting the best out of your graduate school experience.

If you could go back in time and give any advice to yourself as a first-year AFRE student, what would it be?

Do your RCR requirements and learn how to interact with faculty and colleagues. Cultural background differences can be an obstacle to communication, to class participation, and to the way one can answer written questions. The earlier you can unlearn and relearn some communication skills, the better. Also, always try to do your best and never give up.

What is a saying or expression that you probably say too much?

I frequently challenge what people say, by repeatedly asking “what do you mean by that?” and/or “what is that supposed to mean?”. Sometimes, I do it because I literally did not understand what the person was trying to say. But most times, I do it to give people a second chance to think about what they said. I usually push for “references” when someone tells me an information. My second most used expression is more fun. If you know me, you know how obsessed I am with waffles and Vermont maple syrup. Naturally, I always ask “can we have waffles?”. I even have a plate that says “where are my waffles?” that I use every morning.

Adapted from L. Rania’s friends. 2022. “What is a saying or expression I say too much: The answer”. Chat group Press.

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